Evidence that the bacteria in our own bodies can affect our behavior is mounting. Now, researchers have shown that bacteria can control the behavior of robots, too.
A robotic car that researchers equipped with its own internal bacterial community in place of a brain was able to move toward food sources and even learned to perform more complex actions reminiscent of predatory behavior. They report their findings in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
"These robots provide a great tool for understanding the interactions of bacteria with their environment," study co-author Warren Ruder told Tech Times. "The robots themselves could eventually be used to transport fragile, weak strains of bacteria to the environment to perform a bioremediation task, such as cleaning up toxic spills."
Bioengineered bacteria have been hailed as a potential solution for cleaning up oils spills in the past, but some strains are simply not robust enough to survive in such harsh environments. Others might be too robust, and some have voiced fears that the bioengineered bacteria might get out of control once unleashed into the environment. These new robots could solve both problems by keeping the bacteria contained while still allowing them to interact with their environment.
The robot works by responding to light signals that the bacteria emit. The researchers engineered the bacteria such that they generate red or green fluorescent proteins depending on the conditions present in their environment. A sensor within the robot picks up the color of the light, and then moves to the right or left based on that information.
In this way, the bacteria are able to direct the robot toward sugary food sources that the researchers placed in its environment. Even more remarkably, when the researchers enabled the robot to send signals back to its bacterial brain, the robot began to exhibit more complex behaviors. Ruder and his colleagues describe the behavior as akin to a predator stalking and then pouncing on its prey.
So should you be worried about cyborgs with bacterial brains taking over the planet?
"These systems are for scientific understanding of the world," Ruder emphasized. "We are a long, long way from creating, nor is it our mission to create, the biologic-robotic machines of Robocop or The Terminator."